Sunday 29 January 2023 Dublin: 4°C
# clean sweep
Reilly's sniping score hands McNamara's Ireland memorable Grand Slam win
The replacement scrum-half, promoted to the bench just before kick-off, produced a moment of magic for Ireland in north Wales.

Wales 17

Ireland 26

Ryan Bailey reports from Parc Eirias, Colwyn Bay

CHAMPION SIDES FIND a way to win. Ireland, no matter what, were not going to be denied their crowning moment here, as Noel McNamara’s side dug deep and deeper again to eke out a monumental victory and clinch a famous Grand Slam. 

With their backs against the wall, and Wales threatening to spoil the party, Ireland showed remarkable resilience to negotiate the final hurdle of the championship, scoring two late tries through replacement Colm Reilly and Tom Clarkson.

Colm Reilly celebrates his try with Scott Penny Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ireland celebrate Reilly's late try. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Reilly’s sniping score from 30 yards out, with Ireland trailing by three points and just a handful of minutes left on the clock, will live long in the memory, as will a rollicking campaign that sees McNamara’s young guns emulate the feat of Eric Elwood’s 2007 side. 

Ireland were not at their best here, their performance pockmarked by a string of frustrating errors. Yet the character, team spirit and unity which has been evident throughout the last eight weeks came to the fore when they needed it most.

Even losing Craig Casey and Harry Byrne before kick-off was not going to deter this group, who become just the second Ireland U20s side to complete a Six Nations clean sweep on the back of home wins over England and France and victories on the road against Scotland, Italy and now Wales.

The pack were again superb, led by captain Charlie Ryan and Scott Penny, while Dylan Tierney-Martin scored his fifth try of the campaign during a rip-roaring affair on the Welsh coast.

Liam Turner and Sean French were excellent again in midfield and when questions were asked of the bench, including Ryan Baird, they duly responded to get Ireland across the line when the big prize had threatened to slip from their grasp in the final quarter.

There is no doubt that the withdrawal — however late it may have been — of their influential half-back pairing, Casey and Byrne, was an unwanted distraction ahead of kick-off and it must have been a factor in their jittery performance. That they ticked this final box — while also winning at this venue for the first time — is a testament to the group. 

It wasn’t all perfect, yet that makes the victory and sense of achievement even sweeter. An overthrown defensive lineout on this near side set the tone as Wales pitched tent under the shadow of the Ireland posts for the opening exchanges, using their controlled maul to good effect when the visitors infringed under stress.

After initially withstanding wave-after-wave of Welsh attack, Ryan and John Hodnett making key interventions in defence, it appeared Ireland had relieved the early pressure on their line with a scrum penalty of their own, only for further errors to grant the hosts access.

Sean French and Sam Costelow Ryan Byrne / INPHO Sean French shoots out of the defensive line. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Using their lineout maul as a solid attacking base, Wales changed the tempo of their attack, throwing it wide from 40 metres out and when Turner and Wren shot up off the line, Jake Flannery was exposed on the outside.

The Ireland fullback was beaten by Tomi Lewis’ hitch-kick, blistering step and turn of pace, before he drew the final two defenders and offloaded inside for Aneurin Owen to surge over untouched.

Cai Evans added the extras with a sweet strike, and the fullback showed his accuracy off the tee again just short of the half-hour mark to land a long-range penalty and extend Wales’ lead to 10 points after Josh Wycherley was penalised at the breakdown.

Gareth Williams’ men were full value for it, too. 

It was the poorest half of rugby Ireland had produced in this championship, yet the complexion of the scoreboard changed on the stroke of the interval as Angus Kernohan produced the moment of inspiration his side so desperately craved.

Swooping on a loose ball on the far side, the Ulster winger brought Ireland up to the Welsh 10-metre line with a slaloming break from his own half and with the support in tow, the visitors were able to show their clinical edge. 

Ireland moved it wide with pace and precision, allowed Penny to carry, straighten and fix the red shirt before releasing for Wren to step back inside, wrong-footing three covering defenders for a sensational score which Healy converted from under the sticks. 

In an instant, Ireland had rediscovered their accuracy in the red zone after it had frustratingly deserted them earlier in the half when two scoring opportunities went begging. 

Firstly, Penny injected some oomph with a typically abrasive carry off the back of a maul and then thought he had got the ball down at the base of the post after a strong Foley carry, only for the TMO to call it just short. 

Jonathan Wren scores his side's first try Ryan Byrne / INPHO Wren darts through for Ireland's first-half try. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Referee Christophe Ridley was asking for further video recourse moments after when French, off a set-piece move, put the head down and pumped the legs — but again the officials agreed that the Ireland centre had planted the ball agonisingly shy of the whitewash before knocking on. 

But Wren wasn’t to be denied the third time, as Ireland charged for the sheds with a spring in their step, and just three points in arrears despite an off-colour and error-strewn first-half showing. 

With the wind and momentum at their backs, Ireland seized the scoreboard advantage upon the restart, as Tierney-Martin added to his impressive championship tally in the far corner.

The initial TMO review appeared to show the Connacht hooker break off the maul and for the line in an offside position, but Ridley judged that he went to ground of his own accord and was then allowed pick up again and drive for the line.

It was a superb piece of play for Tierney-Martin’s fifth Six Nations try, and Healy nailed the touchline conversion for a 14-10 lead.

And so it ebbed and flowed. Kernohan was pinged for holding on after collecting the restart but Evans uncharacteristically pushed his penalty wide and then Penny showed his worth on the other side of the ball, winning a huge turnover five metres from his own line.

At the other end, Ireland looked to have executed a superb strike move for a third try to create daylight between the sides, but the TMO did well to spot Turner’s pop pass for French was fractionally forward in the build-up. It was a shame because the centre’s audacious offload for Kernohan was a moment of individual brilliance. 

As it was, Ireland, instead of heading into the final quarter with an insurance score on the board, found themselves under their own sticks and chasing the game and Grand Slam again. 

Another poor kick downfield gave Evans time and space and replacement winger Ryan Conbeer did the damage with brilliant footwork and scintillating pace to cut through the green shirts and free the supporting Jac Morgan. 17-14, backs against the wall again. But they had the solution. 

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Charlie Ryan and Ed Scragg Ryan Byrne / INPHO Charlie Ryan and Ed Scragg battle for possession at a lineout. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

The end-game because fast and loose, Ireland were fortunate Evans’ radar had gone awry as he was off-target with another long-range kick and that second row Teddy Williams was the only man in support of Conbeer, after he made another scything break through the heart of the Irish defence.

But the moment of the game — the moment of the championship — was still to come, and it was delivered by replacement 9 Reilly, who was not even in the original matchday 23, only to be promoted when Casey withdrew.

Out of nothing, he saw a gap where Welsh pillars ought to have been and sniped right of a ruck from 30 metres out, arcing his way around the cover defence with a serious show of gas to sprawl over for a sweet, sweet score. Flannery, having moved into out-half, struck the upright with the conversion but it mattered little.

Martin Moloney came up trumps with a big steal and the pack did the rest, showing maturity and composure to land the knockout blow through Clarkson, sparking jubilant scenes in the coaching box and stands. 

Grand Slam champions. 

Wales scorers:

Tries: Aneurin Owen, Jac Morgan. 
Conversions: Cai Evans [2 from 2].
Penalties: Cai Evans [1 from 3].

Ireland scorers:

Tries: Jonathan Wren, Dylan Tierney-Martin, Colm Reilly, Tom Clarkson.
Conversions: Ben Healy [2 from 2], Jake Flannery [1 from 2].

WALES: 15. Cai Evans, 14. Tomi Lewis, 13. Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, 12. Aneurin Owen, 11. Ioan Davies (Ryan Conbeer 51′), 10. Sam Costelow, 9. Dafydd Buckland; 1. Rhys Davies (Tom Devine 51′), 2. Dewi Lake (captain) (Will Griffiths 51′), 3. Ben Warren, 4. Ed Scragg (Jac Price 51′), 5. Teddy Williams, 6. Ellis Thomas, 7. Jac Morgan, 8. Iestyn Rees. 

IRELAND: 15. Jake Flannery, 14. Angus Kernohan, 13. Liam Turner, 12. Sean French, 11. Jonathan Wren, 10. Ben Healy (Rob Russell 63′), 9. Cormac Foley (Colm Reilly 63′); 1. Josh Wycherley (Callum Reid 60′), 2. Dylan Tierney-Martin (John McKee 63′), 3. Thomas Clarkson, 4. Charlie Ryan (captain), 5. Niall Murray (Ryan Baird 49′), 6. Martin Moloney, 7. Scott Penny, 8. John Hodnett (David McCann 71′).

Referee: Christophe Ridley [England].

Bernard Jackman joins Murray Kinsella and Ryan Bailey on The42 Rugby Weekly as Ireland bid to spoil Wales’ Grand Slam party in Cardiff, and the U20s target their own piece of history.

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